A Few Unoriginal Observations about Mister Rogers

Won’t You Be My Neighbor Day came and went two weeks ago. Maybe you saw it commemorated on blogs; I haven’t been reading many as of late. And I don’t own a sweater.

I’m writing today because I came across a video clip of Fred Rogers and got sucked into his neighborhood. I watched his show as a child of course, but my daughter doesn’t watch television yet. I’d probably own the entire 32-year DVD collection and be slowly going through them on our Saturday “movie” night, but curiously very few shows are available on DVD. (I’m sure we’d finish before I die of old age.) Most of the episodes strike me as timeless, at least to a child’s eyes.

Anyhow, the video that sucked me in is the last in this article. But first, here’s a brief clip lifted from a 1988 documentary about the history of television that ran on PBS. I wish his entire speech was available.

Next, here is the full speech Fred Rogers gave before the US Senate on May 1, 1969 defending public television where $20 million was at stake, and he discretely attacks the garbage shoveled on kids in mainstream TV. I also couldn’t help noting that Mr. Rogers speaks as slow and methodically as he does on his children’s show. It’s a very disarming approach to communication.

A choice quote:

“We deal with such things as the inner drama of childhood. We don’t have to bop somebody over the head to make drama on the screen. We deal with such things as getting a haircut. Or the feelings about brothers and sisters and the kind of anger that arises in simple family situations. And we speak to it constructively.

This is what I give. I give an expression of care everyday to each child to help him realize that he is unique. I end this program by saying ‘You’ve made this day a special day by just your being you. There’s no person in the whole world like you and I like you just the way you are.’ And I feel that if we in public television can only make it clear that feelings are mentionable and manageable, we will have done a great service for mental health.

I think that it’s much more dramatic that two men could be working out their feelings of anger, much more dramatic than showing something of gunfire. I’m constantly concerned about what our children are seeing. And for 15 years I have tried in this country and Canada to provide what I feel is a meaningful expression of care.”

Next, a clip from his show where he visits The Flying Karamazov Brothers.

Notice two things about the above clip. They don’t relate to the messages he conveyed every day, but how he conveyed them.

First, Mr. Rogers tells his stories in a slow, methodical way. Any other TV show would stuff this segment with an onslaught of fast music and quickly changing video clips. He apparently once referred to his way as “deep and simple.”

Second, he has long interview segments that contain very few hard video cuts. You feel like you’re really there experiencing his visit rather than watching an hour of footage that was chopped down into six minutes.

Oh, okay, and third, Mr. Rogers isn’t afraid to show us his difficulty in learning to juggle. It’s okay to make mistakes.

Next a trailer for an upcoming documentary, Mister Rogers & Me by someone who grew up as Mister Rogers’ real neighbor.

And here’s an article, Mister Rogers & Me, where the documentarian (and MTV executive) recounts some memories of growing up with Mister Rogers. A quote:

“Outside, Mister Rogers and I stood on the back porch in the Indian summer sun staring out at the water. He asked me about my job at MTV. He said he was concerned about modern pop culture. ‘There is no shortage of things that are shallow and complex,’ he said. ‘We need more television, more movies, more art that is deep and simple.’

Deep and simple.

The phrase stuck with me. It’s what he stood for, who he was. ‘Mister Roger’s Neighborhood,’ like Mister Roger’s himself, was pure, unadulterated goodness unfettered by extra language, bright colors, or complicated drama. He spoke straight, told the truth, and didn’t worry about being cool or contemporary. He just was. Deep and simple.”

And last, Mr. Rogers says goodbye. He died in 2003.

Further links:


11 Responses to “A Few Unoriginal Observations about Mister Rogers”

  1. Jen says:

    While I don’t have children yet (very soon, though… induction scheduled for this Wednesday), I have very fond memories of Mr. Rogers myself. I can even remember turning on Mr. Rogers during the day when I stayed home from school sick as late as 3rd or 4th grade, just because it was fun to watch.

    In a world where children’s programming seems to get more and more superficial and flashy, Mr. Rogers was always a safe haven of calm, sincere, caring educational (and fun!) programming. Thankfully, our local PBS station seems to have no interest in removing Mr. Rogers from their schedule, and show episodes twice a day on weekdays and at least once a day on weekends. The endurance of Mr. Rogers on my local PBS station might have to do with the fact that it’s the station that he did all of his filming through, however. Fred Rogers is something of a local hero, seeing as he was a local resident.

    I grew up in a small town just about 15 miles from where Fred Rogers was born, and a local amusement park actually has a life-sized Neighborhood of Make-Believe attraction (www.idlewild.com) that invariably lines up to over an hour wait for the approximately 20-minute ride on busy days. The ride was actually designed with collaboration from Fred Rogers, and has been there since 1989.

    April 3rd, 2009 at 12:25 pm

  2. DotBlogger says:

    Oh how I loved this.

    April 3rd, 2009 at 2:09 pm

  3. alianora says:

    Thank you for this. Mister Rogers was one of my favorites as a kid, and the first dvds I looked into getting after my son was born. I am so sad there aren’t more dvds available.

    April 3rd, 2009 at 4:13 pm

  4. CanCan (Mom Most Traveled) says:

    I watched each and every clip; what a beautiful and genuine person!

    April 3rd, 2009 at 10:16 pm

  5. Carrie says:

    What a nice tribute. I had no idea…. I hope the show is around when my 4mo. old is ready to start watching, and I will definitely put the existing DVDs on her Christmas List. Or maybe I should start TiVoing them.

    April 3rd, 2009 at 10:56 pm

  6. Bess says:

    Oh, this made me cry! I am 9 months pregnant, but I think it just touched nerve because I have a 2 year old. I wish she could watch Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, but it is not on in our area. I do only let her watch PBS children’s shows as I feel they are better than what is on other channels. Thank you for sharing these videos. He was a very special person indeed!

    April 4th, 2009 at 10:04 am

  7. Amber says:

    What a great post. I only wish you had posted it two weeks ago, so that I could have known and celebrated Won’t You Be My Neighbor Day.

    Mr. Rogers was on in the 1/2 hour before lunch when I was a kindergardener. We watched it every day while the daycare made lunch.

    I actually teared up a bit at the goodbye.

    April 4th, 2009 at 10:40 am

  8. Jeanne says:

    Is there anyone we could contact to let them know how interested we might be in being able to buy the seasons on DVD. I know that, deep in my heart, this was the show I wanted to use as an introduction to TV for my son (we won’t watch until he’s about 2 or so). I knew it would be something I could sit down with him and talk about later. I knew he’d be safe with Mr. Rogers. And, all these years later, I still feel a little spark of happiness when I hear Mr. Rogers tell me that he likes me just the way I am.

    April 4th, 2009 at 1:58 pm

  9. Ari says:

    I look forward to the documentary! I really can’t wait! I love love LOVE Mister Rogers, and 3/20 is always a special day for me as “Sweater Day”. Hurray for Mister Rogers.. I do hope that we can get his show on DVD someday soon, before our baby starts watching… eew… whatever ends up on tv in the next few years.

    April 5th, 2009 at 8:09 am

  10. Christy says:

    My daughter is not quite old enough to truly appreciate the wonderful neighborhood that Mr. Rogers created. I certainly can’t wait until she is! I have some incredibly fond memories of watching that show with my little sister.

    My favorite ones were when he would take a trip to a factory and show how things were produced. The Crayola Factory visit is my all time favorite!!

    April 5th, 2009 at 12:41 pm

  11. Amy says:

    I loved this. During the senate hearing I found myself thinking, “How dare that man interrupt Mr. Rogers!” Fred Rogers will always command more respect from me than any titled individual on the planet. He earned that respect gently and lovingly.

    April 6th, 2009 at 1:05 pm